Hungarian wine tasting seminar with John Szabo

Hungarian wine tasting seminar with John Szabo
The tasting line-up

The other weekend, we had the visit of John Szabo, Canada’s first Master Sommelier and also co-owner of the Hungarian winery J and J Eger Wine Company. During his stay in San Francisco, he co-hosted a Hungarian wine tasting seminar with Matthew Stamp of the Guild of Sommeliers at Morton’s Steakhouse.

The tasting featured 13 wines covering 6 major wine producing areas including Mátra, Szekszárd, Sopron, Eger, Villány, and last but not least, Tokaj.

Hungarian Wine Regions

Our first flight featured 2 whites from Mátra and 2 reds from Szekszárd. Mátra is a wine producing region located in the northeast part of the country, in the foothills of the Matra Mountains. Characterized by cold winters and volcanic soils, the area is noted for its white wines.

Szõke Mátyás Királyleányka 2010: produced by Szõke Mátyás, one of Matra’s most important family-owned wineries. Királyleányka means “little princess” and is a traditional variety of Transylvanian origin. Light golden color, attractive floral nose of acacia blossom. On the palate, crisp, slightly waxy with grapefruit flavors and mineral notes on the finish.
Szõke Mátyás Irsai Oliver 2010: Irsai Oliver is a hybrid grape variety from the Muscat family. Intensely aromatic with rose petal aromas, dry and crisp palate with additional flowery notes on the finish.

Szekszárd is a wine district located in the southern part of Hungary and one of the oldest red wine-growing areas in the country. Although Kékfrankos is the region’s most important red variety, its best-known grape is the thin-skinned and hard-to-grow Kadarka.

Eszterbauer Kadarka Nagyapám 2009: produced by Eszterbauer, a winery that has been making wine in the region for 10 generations. Medium red color, fresh cherry nose, dry, spicy, with lively acidity on the palate. A good accompaniment to paprika-based Hungarian fish stew.
Eszterbauer Tüke Bikavér 2008: Szekszárdi Bikavér or “Bull’s Blood of Szekszárd” is the southern version of the famous Bull’s Blood of Eger. Bikavér, like Châteauneuf-du-Pape, is a blend of potentially 13 grape varieties. This wine has some Kékfrankos for the backbone blended with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc. Dark color, sweet berry aromas on the nose, full-bodied, good overall complexity.

John Szabo
John Szabo getting ready for the tasting.

Our second flight featured Kékfrankos wines from the Sopron and Eger regions. Kékfrankos, also called Blaufränkisch in German, is a dark skinned grape variety grown mostly in central and eastern Europe that can produce rich and spicy wines.

Sopron is situated on the Austrian border, at the foot of the Alps. With a climate characterized by cool summers and mild winters, it produces elegant reds mostly made of Kékfrankos.

Pfneiszl Kékfrankos 2009: produced by the Pfneiszl estate, owned and managed by sisters Birgit and Katrin and currently transitioning to a completely organic winery. Medium red color, vibrant aromatic nose, aromas of dark berries, well-balanced, very tasty.

Eger is located in northern Hungary, on the southern slopes of the Bükk Mountains. The climate is characterized by late springs and hot summers. It is home to the popular Egri Bikavér (bulls blood of Eger), a red blend based on Kékfrankos.

J&J Eger Winery Eged Hegy Kékfrankos 2006: produced by J and J Eger Wine Company, a partnership between John Szabo and Eger native, physician, and winemaker Dr. János Stumpf. Sourced from the dry farmed Eged-Hegy (Eged Hill) vineyard. Dark color, cassis aromas on the nose, full-bodied, good acidity, woody with some tannins. Serious wine but still young.
• J&J Eger Winery Eged Hegy Kékfrankos 2007: tighter than the 2006, concentrated, needs more time.

Our third flight took us to Villány, in Southern Hungary, not far from the Croatian border, where the climate is warmer with Mediterranean influences.

Attila Gere Portugieser 2010: produced by winemaker and winery owner Attila Gere, whose family has been in the wine business for seven generations. Portugieser is an old grape variety that probably originated in the Danube Valley. It is usually vinified as a light, fruity wine. Medium red color, fruity, Beaujolais-like nose, light bodied, fresh, easy to drink.
Attila Gere KOPAR 2007: Bordeaux-style blend of 52% Cabernet Franc, 46% Merlot, and only 2% Cabernet Sauvignon (Cabernet Franc ripens more reliably than Cabernet Sauvignon in the region). Aged in large Hungarian oak casks. Spicy nose, sweet berry fruit on the palate, well balanced, good with grilled meat.

Our last flight was dedicated to the Tokaj wine region in northeastern Hungary, famous worldwide for its botrytized wines, although the production of dry Tokaj is growing. The climate is continental with dry, cold winters, late springs, and hot summers. The soil is of volcanic origin, with high concentrations of iron and lime. Furmint is the main grape variety. It covers about 60% of Tokaji’s vineyards with Hárslevelü covering an additional 30%.

We first tasted two semi-dry Tokaj from Bott Pince, a small winery founded by Judit and József Bodó in March 2006. The Bodó family owns 1.5 ha of vines on a west facing terraced slope in the classed vineyard of Határi.

Bott Határi Hárslevelü 2009: pale golden color, spicy nose with notes of honey, citrus and herbs, well balanced on the palate, mineral finish.
Bott Csontos Furmint 2009: light golden color, fresh floral nose, flavors of honey, dried apricot, licorice, softer than the Határi on the palate.

We concluded the tasting with 2 sweet Tokaj from Patricius, a winery established by the Kékessy family in a rebuilt and modernized wine-press house previously owned by the Jesuits and various aristocratic families.

• Patricius Late Harvest Tokaj 2008: made from over-ripped and partly botrytised berries. Bright golden color, apricot, peach, kumquat aromas on the nose. On the palate, bright acidity, notes of honey and dried herbs, long finish.
Patricius Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 2000: deep amber color, intense nose, flavors of bitter orange marmalade and rock candy, very sweet finish.

BDW team with John Szabo
The Blue Danube team Rachel, Eric, and Frank with John Szabo and David Fenyvesi, from Eger.